Well, it’s after 11 pm on New Year’s Eve and here I am writing, because I don’t want to end 2019 without getting a blog post finished.
After writing so much about politics, this blog post will be about books and reading, plus whatever else flits into mind that’s generally related to books and reading. On various sites, including Twitter, there seem to be a lot of year’s end type stories about “best books of 2019” or “I read 127 books this year.”
While I peruse other people’s book lists and jot down books from their lists that interest me, my own reading tastes veer from historical romance novels to serious books on foreign policy, military affairs, U.S. history, spy novels, general fiction, and even the classics, so it’s doubtful anyone would find my reading list very useful.
Numerous articles have been written about General James Mattis’ voracious reading habit and I always find it interesting what books generals recommend, although most of them stick to military-themed novels, which is what makes Mattis so interesting to me. He has mentioned The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. I knew I had that novel somewhere and I finally located it among some of my old historical romance paperback novels. I bought this somewhere around 1979/1980, I think. The copyright of this paperback is 1979 and hard to believe it cost only $2.95. I read some of it, but never finished (it’s 1189 pages), so perhaps in 2020, I’ll give it another go. Mattis also recommended Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon by B.H. Liddell Hart and I actually have that book too… along with Marcus Aurelius, another of Mattis’ faves.
The one stand out novel I read this year was the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a WWII story with characters who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. The writing alone soars, but then there’s the captivating cast of characters, and a plot that was way larger than “just another WWII novel.” It’s the type of story that can touch just about every human heart, even those who have no interest in WWII, I think.
Reading matters a great deal and while harping on reading sounds like a tired old public service message, being able to read truly does open doors of opportunity. More importantly, it allows even the poorest people the chance to explore and learn about the world. With books anyone can travel to new and fascinating places, travel through time, and even travel to imaginary worlds. The ability to read is one of the great equalizers around the world, but especially in a republic like the United States of America.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818, but he died a world-renowned abolitionist, orator, writer and most of all a free man in 1895. Teaching slaves to read was against the law, but after his mistress began teaching him to read, the fire was lit in Douglass to acquire an education despite the risks. His master caught his wife teaching Douglass and forbade her to continue the lessons, propelling Douglass on a lifelong journey to acquire an education:
“Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom I met in the streets as teachers. I used to carry, almost constantly, a copy of Webster’s spelling book in my pocket; and, when sent of errands, or when play time was allowed me, I would step, with my young friends, aside, and take a lesson in spelling. I generally paid my tuition fee to the boys, with bread, which I also carried in my pocket. For a single biscuit, any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more valuable to me than bread. Not every one, however, demanded this consideration, for there were those who took pleasure in teaching me, whenever I had a chance to be taught by them.”
Douglass, Frederick (2009-10-04). My Bondage and My Freedom (p. 85). Public Domain Books Kindle Edition.
My Bondage and My Freedom is in the public domain and available free online at gutenberg.org and in kindle format at amazon.com.
The love of books and reading is one of the best gifts you can pass on to your children and grandchildren. My four granddaughters are all teenagers now and all of them love to read. My daughter made going to the library a part of their ordinary routine, which is what my husband and I did with her and her siblings. When my granddaughters were younger, I bought them kindle fires, so imagine my surprise a few years ago when they told me they prefer reading actual books, because it’s more enjoyable holding an actual book. My kids bought me a kindle many years ago, in hopes that I would buy fewer actual books, since my bookshelves are crammed full. I still read kindle books, but I also still buy some actual books (some habits never die).
While it’s easy to get caught up in the constant doom and gloom prognostications about how everything in America is going to hell in a hand basket… because of evil Trump or the evil Dems, perhaps the truth is there’s still plenty for us to remain hopeful about.
Despite concerns about the demise of reading in America, Pew Research Center found that roughly 72% of Americans said they had read a book in the past year, across several formats and that statistic has remained unchanged since 2012. Audiobook usage is up, but print books still remain the most popular book format.
In April 2019, I moseyed to my local public library and got a new library card, since I hadn’t been to the public library in several years. My public library resides in a lovely, brand new building and a lot had changed besides the building. I learned about free digital services, Hoopla and RB Digital, that I can access from my phone, tablet or desktop PC and sign out audiobooks and ebooks, all with just my library card number. I can renew library books and pay fines just by signing into my library account online. Using Hoopla and RB Digital, I joined the audiobook listener ranks in 2019 and while I still prefer reading an actual book best, the production quality of some of these audiobooks completely exceeded my expectations and kept me captivated from beginning to end. Of course, there were a couple audiobooks where the performer’s voice grated on my nerves and I just couldn’t finish the book.
We’re now into 2020, so let me wish everyone a very Happy New Year and if our crazy political sideshows get too tiring, just pick up a book, find an ebook or listen to an audiobook to escape the politics and media madness.